On This Day

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Sadayuki Mikami/AP
Police search through the rubble in the Nagata section of Kobe, Japan, Jan. 24, 1995.

On This Day: “Great Hanshin Earthquake” Hits Kobe, Japan

January 17, 2012 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Jan. 17, 1995, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit Kobe, Japan. It was especially deadly because it occurred so close to an urban center.

World’s Costliest Natural Disaster

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Early on Jan. 17, 1995, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake on the Richter scale hit the northern part of Japan’s Awaji Island, lasting 20 seconds. The quake devastated the port city of Kobe, and the cities of Osaka and Kyoto also reported severe damage.

It caused 6,434 deaths, thousands of injuries and massive damage to infrastructure. Over 45,000 homes were destroyed. Portions of the city’s Hanshin Highway, previously believed to be quakeproof, collapsed. Around 50,000 people left Kobe after the earthquake.

“A modern industrial hub that was rebuilt after World War II, Kobe was covered by black smoke caused by more than 70 fires,” The New York Times wrote. “Fires were still raging out of control eight hours after the quake.”
It ranks as the second deadliest earthquake in Japanese history after the 1923 Kanto Earthquake, which claimed over 140,000 lives. The Kobe earthquake was not as powerful as past earthquakes in Japan, but because of its proximity to an urban center, it was one of the most destructive.

The Guinness Book of Records lists it as the “costliest natural disaster to befall any one country.” One estimate calculates the damage at over $200 billion, according to The Nippon Foundation.

It took years, and substantial investment, for Kobe to recover from what became known as the “Great Hanshin Earthquake.”

Reference: Earthquakes

The U.S. Geological Survey publishes facts on earthquakes past and present, featuring information about earthquake hazards.

It is not uncommon to hear of an earthquake that registers in the high sixes or low sevens on the Richter scale. The Incorporated Research Institutes of Seismology catalogs recent earthquakes, detailing some of the more substantial quakes. Luckily, many of them occur in the middle of the ocean and are less devastating than their magnitudes might suggest.
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